Senatorial candidates sign, push for 9-point Youth Covenant

Pag-asa ng Bayan! Kabataan!” chanted Sarah Elago, president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) and first nominee of the Kabataan Partylist at Serye Restaurant in Quezon City during the signing of the nine-point Youth Covenant earlier today. Along with her were Ernest Ramel (representative of Former Pampanga Governor Mark Lapid), Former Justice Secretary Leila De Lima, incumbent Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon, Former MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino, Yedda Marie Kittilstvedt-Romualdez (representative of Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez), Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, Aureli Sinsuat (representative Valenzuela City Rep. Win Gatchalian), and Kabataan Partylist Second Nominee Romina Astudillo.

The covenant lists down nine major points of the Youth Agenda for the upcoming National and Local Elections to be signed by the senatorial candidates present in the conference. Formulated by the NUSP, the College Editors Guild of the Philippines, Anakbayan, the League of Filipino Students, and the Kabataan Partylist, along with other school-based and local youth organizations, the covenant includes the following points: Free public education at all levels, decent jobs for the youth and the people, genuine agrarian reform, just and lasting peace, improvement of healthcare and other social services, environmental preservation, good governance, better internet, and upholding national sovereignty.

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The youth comprise roughly 37 percent of the number of voters in the upcoming national and local elections in May.


Free public education

Free public education, the first point listed in the agenda, is the main thrust of the covenant. In a press conference held prior to its signing, Ridon explained, “In 2010, students shelled out an average [of] P30,000 to P50,000 on tuition yearly. This amount has already doubled to P60,000 to P100,000 in 2015.”

Tolentino, on the other hand, lamented the loss of love for land among Filipinos. He pointed to the lack of government support for agriculture in schools, especially in community colleges and state universities. To illustrate, he juxtaposed the abundance of nursing and business administration majors with the lack of agriculture and environmental science majors, even in state-sponsored agricultural educational institutions.

De Lima agreed, emphasizing the need to support the children of farmers across the nation. “We should provide for free education, for agriculture-related technologies,” she said. She added that the main solution for poverty is and always will be education and that it is the government’s job to provide free public education up to the post-secondary level. According to De Lima, the government must pour more resources into the public education sector, which should, ideally, be at par with their private counterparts.

Colmenares asserted that students’ rights and welfare issues are always an election issue, no matter what position candidates are aiming for. Ramel, speaking for Lapid, said that as the youngest senatorial candidate, Lapid stands with the youth and the nine-point agenda and urgently calls for free public education in all levels.

Sinsuat explained the rationale behind House Bill 5905, or the Free Higher Education Act, filed by Gatchalian in 2015. According to Sinsuat, the granting of free tuition and fees for all students in state universities and colleges should not be considered a dole-out because students who graduate will then be able to repay the state through income taxation. Gatchalian’s bill has already been approved on the committee level, but has very little chances of getting approved in the 16th Congress. “This bill is our promise,” Sinsuat concluded.


Decent jobs for the youth and the people

The covenant calls for the institution of a P16,000 monthly national minimum wage, as well as the end of contractualization, harassment of trade unions, and labor export policy.

For De Lima, there are four bottom lines that must be met when it comes to labor. These are fair and equal opportunity, humane working conditions, decent and livable wages, and the right to organization and collective bargaining. She added that contractualization should not be allowed under the Philippine constitution, and its criminalization is currently being looked into.

Hindi lang basta trabaho, kundi disenteng trabaho,” explained Ramel, speaking for Lapid. With his candidate, Ramel promoted the creation of jobs through tourism and the condemnation of contractualization.

Colmenares, on the other hand, pointed to industrialization as the solution for the country’s labor problems. He explains that because the Philippines exports cheap raw materials and imports expensive finished goods, it is imperative that the government invest on the industrialization of different sectors in order to boost development and provide more jobs. He added that the base of industrialization must begin with mechanized agriculture, which means that government support for farmers must not end with irrigation and loans, but with mechanization programs.


Genuine agrarian reform

In connection with the previous agenda, Colmenares said that the success of developed nations could be attributed to genuine agrarian reform as a proper foundation for industrialization. He vowed to pass a bill that will give farmers land for free, citing that current agrarian reform programs in the Philippines is preposterous, as we are only one of three countries that require payment from farmers. He added that we are also the only country that charges irrigation fees, when the government should be fully supporting the development of agriculture.

The covenant states that the youth recognizes the urgent need to implement genuine agrarian reform, and that the government must “exert all efforts to develop and modernize the agriculture sector.”


Just and lasting peace

“The pursuit of just and lasting peace is of primordial importance,” reads the covenant. Through it, the senatorial candidates pledge to exert “all efforts to ensure that justice will be served for all victims of human rights violations, and [put] an end to the culture of impunity that thrives in the country.” The covenant also calls for the release of political prisoners, “whose continued incarceration [has] become one of the main barriers to the continuation of peace negotiations.”

De Lima vowed to pursue peace processes if elected into the senate, and expressed her support for the Bangsamoro Basic Law. “Dapat i-pursue pa rin yan, whoever the next president [is],” she said, adding that improvements must be introduced to the current bill to solve the problem of insurgency.

On the other hand, Colmenares stressed that “just and lasting peace can only be achieved if you address the roots of the conflict.” According to Colmenares, any peace process can only be successful if it addresses the main problem. “Hindi naman gume-giyera ang mga tao for the heck of it. Gume-giyera ang tao dahil may issue. May injustice, may poverty, may discrimination, at iba pa.”


Improvement of healthcare and other social services

By signing the covenant, these senatorial candidates also vowed to “stand hand-in-hand with the youth in the belief that social services such as health, housing, and public transportation should be given top priority by providing greater state funding, rather than privatizing, these services.”

Colmenares expressed that the issue on social services has been a yearly battle in congress, not only in terms of education, but also in health and other services. “Dapat buhos ang pondo sa ospital,” he said. “Dapat ‘pag pumunta ang mahirap sa ospital, libre ang gamot at konsultasyon. Dapat i-improve at palawakin ang healthcare and other social services.”


Environmental preservation

As for the issue on environment, the covenant calls for strong legislation that would protect the environment and put an end to the unabated plunder of Philippine lands and seas by foreign companies and big businesses.

Isa po sa ating mga pinagmamalaki ang ating kapiligiran, ating karagatan, ating kabundukan, ating yaman,” explained Ramel. “Dapat po ay protektahan ang environment.” He proudly shared that it was his candidate, Mark Lapid, that spearheaded the environmental efforts in Boracay’s sewage and water systems during his time as the chief of the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority.

Kittilstvedt-Romualdez, on the other hand, shared that her husband’s platform also includes the creation of separate departments to handle national preparedness for emergency disasters. She shared that she and her husband were witnesses to the havoc wreaked by Typhoon Yolanda, as Romualdez has served as the representative of the 1st District of Leyte.

Colmenares also brought up the regulation of mining companies, stating that it should be tighter. He stated that the decision of the people, especially those of the indigenous groups in the Philippines, must be heeded when deciding whether or not mining companies should operate in certain areas.


Good governance

De Lima describes the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill as long overdue, after languishing in congress for the better part of the last two decades. The bill is part of the covenant’s seventh component on good governance, which calls for greater democratic space for people’s participation in the conduct of the country’s affairs, along with unrestrained access to government information.

While De Lima expressed her full support of the bill, Colmenares also vowed to pursue its passing in the senate, highlighting the need for it to be “tunay at may pangil.”


Better internet

“We are the second slowest in the entire world, and we are also second most expensive,” explained De Lima on the internet situation in the country. As the eighth point in the Youth Covenant, internet and telecommunications technology in the country should be improved upon.

“We must also keep in mind that legislation for the internet should expand—rather than restrict—the relative freedom we enjoy online,” the covenant reads.

“Madali naman sigurong tukuyin kung bakit, at kung madaling tukuyin kung bakit, madali rin dapat ang solusyon diyan,” De Lima said.

Colmenares echoed De Lima’s sentiments, stating that his team is currently preparing a case against the giants of the internet service industry.

Ramel, on the other hand, highlighted Lapid’s commitment to ensuring greater internet access for the youth because doing so will aid their learning. He agreed that there should be more players in the telecommunications industry in order to improve competition, thereby lowering prices and raising quality.


Upholding national sovereignty

“We pledge our support in the fight to uphold our national sovereignty amidst all brewing international conflicts,” reads the covenant. It calls for lawmakers and other public servants to serve their own people and “not the whims and orders of foreign hegemonic powers.”

Hindi tayo dapat maka-Tsina. Hindi dapat maka-Amerika. Dapat maka-Pilipino,” asserted Colmenares. He professed that he is against not only the Philippine’s Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the United States, but also the ongoing attempts by the Chinese government to claim the West Philippine Sea.

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Blueprint for the future

“This nine-point youth covenant is a blueprint for a better future for the youth of the nation, [who] will inherit the nation someday,” concluded Sinsuat.

Ramel agreed, explaining that investments in the youth are important especially in light of the ASEAN integration. He asserted that the youth must be equipped to weather the challenges brought about by international competition, and the government must aid them in this regard.

Marinel Mamac

By Marinel Mamac

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